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Library Lovers Launch Drive to Update Mitchell Park Branch

Original post made by alexishamilton, Midtown, on Oct 25, 2006

Mitchell Park Libary in all it's shabby glory is a much used resource in our Midtown community.

If you support an upgraded neighborhood library and community center on the current footprint at Mitchell Park, now is the time to let the City Council know this is important to you. A dedicated group of Midtown citizen have launched a petition to assess community support for upgrading the Mitchell Park Library. To sign the petition, go to:
Web Link

Comments (35)

Posted by Laurie Herzl
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 25, 2006 at 10:15 pm

Palo Alto: Please upgrade the Mitchell Park Library. We currently go to the downtown Los Altos Library as it is large, beautiful, and a lovely place to spend an afternoon. It would certainly be nice to have something similar in our own area.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2006 at 7:44 am

i disagree about a Mitchell Library upgrade. I think we need to have one central library in Palo Alto--the city does not have the reosurces to support a multi-branch system.
i use the Mountain View library--it is a pleasure to visit as opposed to the poor excuse of a library system that is in PA.

Posted by Kathy
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2006 at 8:48 am

Richard: Many of us are sympathetic to your point of view, but there is no political will to get rid of the neighborhood system. Taking that as a GIVEN, which it IS, we must upgrade Mitchell Park and make it as good as it can be.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 9:20 am

Palo Alto: " Please upgrade one library in our city and it doesn't matter too much to me whether it is Main or MP. Let one library be a destination in itself. Give us a pleasant air conditioned place to sit and read or study with perhaps a coffee shop and a children's play area outside. Plenty of parking would be useful and hours of opening that suit everyone. On top of that, a first class library service would be a good idea too."

I have heard the above sentiments in many threads lately. This is a city full of reasonably affluent people and it doesn't sound too unreasonable for them to expect this. However, we know the costs involved. So once again, I ask, please get a serious source of sales tax in this city. I want to spend my sales tax dollars to improve Palo Alto, not Mountain View, Menlo Park, etc. etc. I have asked friends who live in these cities if they spend any sales tax in Palo Alto and their reply is "very rarely". This sounds extremely one sided to me. Why are we funding the improvements of our neighbors? It isn't because we won't shop in Palo Alto, it is because we can't shop in Palo Alto. When will the city council realise this? They themselves as individuals shop outside Palo Alto, dine outside Palo Alto, etc. etc. What are we doing with our city? The answer is that we are letting ourselves rot.

Posted by ssquared
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 9:47 am

If we close Downtown and College Terrace as the last beleaguered library director suggested, we would have funds to enhance both Mitchell (most heavily used) and Main. Nobody wants to lose a neighborhood resource but the pattern has been set with the loss of neighborhood schools years ago.

Posted by Jane
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 10:36 am

I don't agree that it is a given that the entire community is behind a strategy to retain multiple neighborhood libraries. Most people I know did not participate in that discussion (and voted against the issue to improve Mitchell Park the last time). Perhaps we missed the opportunity or didn't take advantage of it, but we're paying attention now. Just look at the comments in the other town square forum.

I agree with Richard and Bystander above. I don't care where the central library is located, but it should not be a "the best we can do given the political environment". It should be the best we can do. If Mitchell Park is the best scaleable real estate - so be it. If alternatively, the Main Library has a better site for an excellent expanded library...great. Why are we spending so much time arguing north vs south and personal location preference? Why not pick the most logical practical location and create something wonderful?

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 11:04 am

If I remember correctly, (and I admit this may be wrong) didn't the last vote on Mitchell Park's library improvements include losing tennis courts, parking, etc. If this is the scenario we are talking about, it was the exact way in which the improvements were being made which upset many people, not the principle of improvement to the library itself.

Posted by Karen White
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2006 at 11:45 am

Kudos to Palo Altans who are actively pursuing an improved, expanded Mitchell Park library facility! Improvements to Mitchell Park are critically needed, even before new housing developments now underway (or in the planning stages) add new residents to that library's service area.

Retaining our branch library system is a settled question; protracted discussion on this topic does not help our community coalesce to bring positive change at Mitchell Park. Here are the specifics:

A randomized survey, conducted by the City, demonstrated that Palo Altans solidly support the neighborhood library system. The survey results are available at Web Link Readers will note that to question #7, Palo Altans were asked if they were satisfied or not with the library. 87% said they were and just 11% that they weren't. To question #11, 65% of survey responders also said it was important to retain the present spread-out system of libraries vs. 23% who felt this was unimportant.

Closing the two smallest branches (College Terrace and Downtown) would not bring meaningful cost savings. These branches consume only about 8% of the budget but generate 11% of visits and 16% of circulation. They are thus the most efficient branches. Closing them would add a few service hours per week at Main and Mitchell Park, but this shift in patronage would bring an overwhelming number of new visitors -- about 144,000 per year -- to remaining branches, causing intolerable parking impacts and strains on computer use and other library resources. Any cost savings from this shift in operations would be negligible, certainly nothing of the magnitude needed to expand the Mitchell Park library building or make other substantial capital improvements. (Interested readers can review the relevant staff report, CMR 513:04.) Finally, the City Council has already made clear that it is not moving to close branches or create a single central library facility.

Let's talk instead about creating an action plan for facility upgrades at Mitchell Park, where they're critically needed. Thanks to engaged citizens, the effort is building momentum! A community focused on this top priority project will ultimately see positive results.

Posted by Richard
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2006 at 12:48 pm

retaining our branch system may be a settled issue to some people in PA, but not to all of us. I am not sure who took part in this survey (I sure did not) and how the survey was, in my opinion, skewed so that the pro-branch library forces would get their way.
The city cannot afford a branch library system, nor should we settle for the shoddy libraries we have now.
the city council is scared to say anything about closing branches because they have seen what happened to Ms Simpson--who was victimized by a smear campaign and intimidation by the pro-branch forces (who know that if you are vocal in PA you will get your way--the city council are not leaders, but followers of those that scream the loudest).
Close the branches and build a descent central library--this is a city of 60,000 people, not NYC or SF that needs neighborhood branches.

Posted by Sanford Forte
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 26, 2006 at 1:03 pm

Karen White is correct. Libraries are a good thing for community, not only for the wonderful benefits they create, but for the real payback they represet in terms of return on taxpayer investment. Our library is one of the few municipal services that provides real, substantial, positive dollar payback to citizens. This is rare in municipal service models, and should be considered when anyone thinks of cutting back library investment.

I would urge all who are interested in real returns on taxpayer dollars spent, and how libraries enable that, to read the following link; it clearly shows that taxpayer investment in libraries leads to a *positive* return to community, in terms of real dollar payback.
Web Link

About Mitchell Park, specifically - this library serves the fastest growing and most populous section of our city; it will probably become even more challenged in its ability to serve all patrons efficiently when Cubberley reverts back to a school. This will create enormous pressure on the Mitchell Park Library and the current Community Center.

We must plan now to increase the forward capacity and program-serving ability of this complex. The sooner we do this, the more concomitant efficiencies will be realized, with community, with PAUSD, with educators, and even those who use other branches. If we wait to make changes, and add the additional capacity that the Mitchell Park complex will certainly need, we will cost ourselves needless delay, and more money, because inflation has a way of taking construction costs up faster than the median increases for inflation in other areas.

The Mitchell Park effort is about community, and realized tax dollars that bring PROFIT to a community - in addition to the many, many other benefits that an enabled library system that is able to flex and scale with community growth can provide.

We can do this!

Posted by Lisa
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2006 at 1:53 pm

I agree the Mitchell Park Library needs improving but the devil is in the details.

If we are planning to build a huge structure with many offices for staff with underground parking, as proposed under Measure D the failed 2002 bond measure, then I'm against it. Under that scenario 60% of the bond funding would go to building an extensive underground parking structure.

If, on the other hand, a reasonably sized structure which emphasises an enlarged library/Community Center, say around 35,000 - 40,000 sq. ft is proposed with above ground parking, then I'm all for it.

Posted by Jane
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 2:23 pm

Thank you Karen for the web link to the Library survey. It looks like a very comprehensive document that is attempting to help the city prioritize services in an existing library system. Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to participate in it.

What if found missing in this survey is the question we are really debating, which is "if the city has a limited amount of money to spend, which of the following best reflects your library priorities, ranked in order of importance to you."

Once again, I am not urging us to support Main vs Mitchell, just to take a careful analytical look at the possibility of centralizing the entire system - including all cost savings, service changes, and benefits.
Thank you.

Wouldn't it be great if we could have it all at multiple libraries, but I continue to hear that the city does not have enough money to pay for everything. If that is the case, how do we distribute a finite amount of money.

Also, while the operating cost savings may be minimal, has the city explored the money that would result from the reduction in real estate if the library system were to be centralized?

Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2006 at 2:24 pm

I agree with Richard - that many of us question the idea of continuing with all these library branches. I support Main, Mitchell, and Children's (because that is a special historic situation). More beyond that is just not manageable, in a practical and financial sense.

Please, let's learn from best practices, go out and look at Mountain View, Los Altos, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Menlo Park, Redwood City and see how these neighboring cities handle their libraries. They don't have all these branches, of course.

I am a professional librarian (not in P.A.) and speaking of the departed Ms. Simpson, I am highly sympathetic and while I don't know her personally she appeared to be knowledgeable and professional and I was truly appalled at how poorly some people treated her in this city.

Posted by Libraryuser
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 3:28 pm

k says
>Please, let's learn from best practices, go out and look at Mountain View, Los Altos, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Menlo Park, Redwood City and see how these neighboring cities handle their libraries. They don't have all these branches, of course.

If you really are a "professional librarian" you should know that most of the cities you mention DO HAVE branches.
Menlo Park has 2, Los Altos has 2 , Redwood City is building a 4th branch !! Santa Clara has 2. A letter a while back in the Weekly said the following:

"Consider Menlo Park. It operates two libraries -- one much larger than any of ours -- on less than 40 percent of our budget and puts on nearly 400 public programs annually. If Palo Alto ran as efficiently we'd have two large libraries, four smaller ones and almost a million dollars left over each year."

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 3:30 pm


What is wrong with a two storey structure with underground parking. I don't mean a huge monstrosity with lots of offices, but utilising the space underground is more than useful. If we had a decent sized library it would make sense to put parking underground. It would certainly help the parking problem, but it would also leave more land above ground for recreational use. A play structure for children, benches and perhaps artwork, a coffee/sandwich bar, a few bulletin boards and some pleasant greenery, would all be much more pleasant to look at than a huge parking lot. Also the cars would be cooler on hot days and we wouldn't have the kids complaining about how hot it is in the car and how the seats are burning their legs, if we couldn't find a convenient tree to park under. It would keep the cars cleaner too! So, why not underground parking?

Posted by Levine
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2006 at 3:37 pm

Jane, you say that " "if the city has a limited amount of money to spend, which of the following best reflects your library priorities, ranked in order of importance to you."

Someone above posted a web link Web Link
this study - replicated several times, with similar results - clearly shows that money spent on libraries MAKES money for the city, and its citizens. How do you measure your claim against the result of that study?

The library survey has already shown that our citizens want branches, so any revenue request at the polls that doesn't include a continuation of the branches would probably be defeated. Thus, the conundrum faced by those who want to properly support our library system, bring the Mitchell Park complex up to date - so that it can adequately serve municipal growth - and see our branches maintained.

It serves us best, as Mr. Forte, and Ms. White pointed out above, to find a creative way to make our library system work, in ways that honor fiscal constraint, recognize the real payback that libraries bring community, and keep the current branch system intact.

I'll quote Mr. Forte: "We can do this!"

Posted by Anna
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2006 at 3:48 pm

Bystander, underground parking costs $140-160 per square foot, compared to roughly $20 per square foot for surface parking. An underground facility serving just 100 cars would cost almost $5M.

We can accomplish everything we need to with above ground parking. I'm excited about all the possibilties! Just think, a new Mitchell Park Library and improved Community Center that's able to meet the tremendous growth needs of South Palo Alto, and make the library experience in N. Palo Alto better, as a bonus! And, libraries make money for our community, like the study says! Wow! What a deal!

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2006 at 4:27 pm

I know there are costs involved and I am not necessarily saying that this is the best thing to do. All I am doing is answering Lisa's point that an underground (or underlibrary/above ground) parking facility does not mean an ugly monstrosity. Underground parking, although expensive, does make a lot of sense. Ikea, Safeway in Menlo Park and Whole Foods in Los Altos to name but three, have all found it to make sense for them. I also believe that there is some talk of another parking structure being built in downtown Palo Alto. My point is that in an area where the cost of land is often more than the value of what is being built on top, underground parking makes a lot of sense. Whether it does in this particular instance is worth discussing. Mitchell Park parking is difficult on many occasions. When there are baseball events, picnics, church events, school events, Mitchell Park Parking is used for all. Library parking, if we increase the size and facilities at Mitchell Park, is likely to increase the problem. Underground parking should be considered, it could help potential problems in the future, and shouldn't be sneared at without giving due thought to.

Posted by r
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2006 at 5:37 pm

Thanks, Karen for posting the survey results. This was very useful. Since I disagree with 87% of residents that are satisfied with the current system, I guess I'll just use the libraries in neighboring cities. I still think it's a shame.

Posted by k
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2006 at 9:36 pm

LibraryUser says that some of the neighboring cities I mentioned do have branches - well, yes, several do but not like Palo Alto...Los Altos has Main and tiny Woodland; Santa Clara has Main and a branch in the Mission is just too much for Palo Alto's geographic size and population to sustain the current # of branches and I think reality bears this out. I am not opposed to having ANY branches, just the # of branches we currently have. I stand by my comment that we need to look at best practices in our region (and other regions).

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2006 at 11:39 pm

It's encouraging to know that quite a few people are in favor of centralizing the library system.

I went to the website referenced by Sanford Forte that shows "taxpayer investment in libraries leads to a *positive* return," but was unable to find any actual numeric data on the site.

Regarding the survey,
- 29% of respondents go to a library less than once/month
- When asked why they were very/somewhat satisfied with the library system, only 16% of respondents said because it's "close/convenient."
- College Terrace and Downtown might be the most efficient, but only 13% of respondents visited College Terrace in the past year.
- 17% feel Palo Alto is well served by the current library and no changes are required. 56% believe that although Palo Alto residents for the most part are adequately served, there is some room for improvement. Respondents (14%)who NEVER use the library answered this question.

Posted by Sanford Forte
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 27, 2006 at 1:20 am

Pat, following is some numeric data, from the link Web Link provided earlier. This link does, in fact, indicate numeric results and summaries from the study.

Please note that this study was issued from a Federal grant, and was designed by econometricians, with assumptions kept very conservative - so as to not improperly weight or bias the survey, or the data. Detailed charts and deep numbers used to can be obtained from the St. Louis Public Library.
Again, following are some numeric results that CLEARLY show a positive return on taxpayer dollars deployed for investment in public libraries. It's important to note that this study has been replicated (as the summaries indicate) several times, and have consistently shown POSITIVE returns on public library investment.

Here is some representative data from the summaries linked to above:

"Annual local taxes spent for library operations yield substantial direct benefits. Each library returns more than $1 of benefits for each $1 of annual taxes. Baltimore County Public Library returns $3-$6 in benefits per tax dollar. Birmingham Public Library returns $1.30-$2.70 in benefits per tax dollar. King County Library System returns $5-$10 in benefits per tax dollar. Phoenix Public Library returns over $10 in benefits per tax dollar. SLPL returns $2.50-$5 in benefits per tax dollar.

"Each library studied yields a good return on invested capital. Baltimore County Public Library returns a minimum of 72%. Birmingham Public Library returns a minimum of 5%. King County Library System returns a minimum of 94%. Phoenix Public Library returns over $150%. SLPL returns a minimum of 22%.
a. Shortly after completing the IMLS CBA study and before publicizing its results, Phoenix Public Library participated in a city-wide bond referendum that will expand its capital assets by 20% over 5 years. The referendum passes more than 75% of voter support. The overwhelming strength of this majority confirms the public's (and cardholders') perception of the high social rate of return to the public's investment in library assets, consistent with the results of the CBA study.

Posted by Alex Green
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2006 at 1:34 pm

I have heard is that well over 50% of voters were in favor of the library improvement bond measure that was floated a few years ago to upgrade Mitchell Park and Children's, but the bond failed because it required 2/3 majority to pass. Can someone confirm these results?

Posted by Periwinkle
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 28, 2006 at 4:24 pm

Alex, In fact, Measure D (the library measure that you referred to) did fail, with a majority 61.4% voting for the measure. So, the clear majority in Palo Alto wanted that measure to pass, but it wasn't the 2/3 majority required by law for revenue measures.

Measure D would have passed had it been better designed, less confusing, had enthisiastic support from city Staff and Council (at the time). The other variable was the solid 10% that are aagainst anything changing here, being able to rstle enough fear, doubt and distortion that went unchallenged.

This is a shame, because the latter group cost our city the social and economic benefits that would have accrued from a new library, along with a then-far-less-expensive construction cost, compared to current-day costs. .

Posted by SW
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2006 at 7:58 am

I am curious -- if we closed the smaller branch libraries, could the city then sell the land and use the proceeds to help fund construction on a new library? Maybe there are restrictions against this, but if not, then the advantages of closing a branch could go beyond just a reduction in operational costs. Also, if we kept Main, Children's and Mitchell Park and closed the remaining branches, Palo Alto would still have three libraries, which would seem to be fairly on par with what other cities have.

Posted by Penny
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 29, 2006 at 11:02 am

My husband and I often spend time at Mitchell Park Library with our girls. Here are a few observations from a recent visit...

We literally were bumping into other patrons while searching the stacks. Things are too close together. It's hard to find a place to sit down and read. We had to sit on the floor (which was fine for my elementary school aged daughters but hard on my tall, 47 year old frame).

A woman with a child in a wheel chair had trouble getting around a corner in the stacks because it was blocked by a full cart that looked as though it was being used to extend the stacks.

When we stopped to use the bathroom, we sneaked a peek at the work area for employees. Although tidy and well-organized (staff seems to be doing the best they can with the resources at hand), it looked extremely tight and uncomfortable.

This is the ONLY library south of the Oregon Expressway. It has been the most heavily used library in the PA system, and it underserves our current population. South PA population is going to mushroom in the next five to ten years. I fervently hope that whatever plan City Council finally settles on will expand and improve services at this branch.

We can do better.

Posted by Libraryuser
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2006 at 11:07 am

I don't know if the city could sell the land but I would be strongly opposed to selling off community-owned land. Some things have more value than money.
There is considerable private wealth in this town. Maybe that's the way to go, rather than selling off the public's irreplaceable land.

Posted by library user too
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 29, 2006 at 1:21 pm

Children's Library exists because one woman with weath had the will and a vision. In 1940, Lucie Stern gave the Children's Library to the children of our city as a gift. A very nice gift! In a different example of the same thing, the fabulous new Seattle library is the result of Bill Gates's philanthropy ... Why aren't we seeing a new generation of Palo Alto philanthropists emerge around this issue?

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 31, 2006 at 9:55 am

Thanks for your reply saying that the study does "indicate numeric results and summaries." However, I'm looking for the numeric DATA that indicates how the results were obtained. One of the paragraphs you quoted talks about "benefits" returned for tax dollars, but what are those benefits? The other paragraph claims returns on invested capital of up to 150%. That's quite an ROI and I'd be interested to know how that was achieved.

Posted by MovieLover2
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 31, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Here is one library's way to calculate the benefits - please visit this site and see how much the library may be providing you personally.

Web Link

Posted by eric
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 6, 2006 at 10:25 am

Anna, STRUCTURED parking costs $140± a foot. Underground is much costlier.

Come see the Mtn View library some time for a quick lesson in a well-run public facility!

Posted by anon
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2006 at 10:35 am

eric is correct - the Mt. View Library is wonderful - congratulations on your city having your act together.

Posted by Alex Green
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2006 at 9:47 am

Yes... Mountain View has 1 great library, Palo Alto has 5 run-down out dated overused libraries...

Posted by Richard G.
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 14, 2006 at 11:19 pm

The previous bond measure for expanding Mitchell Park Library almost passed with almost 2/3 support. I think it would have passed except for 2 things. It was a bit "Grandious" in arcitecture (sp) and the supporters of tennis (courts)fought against losing 2 courts. The city still hasn't resolved the issue of not enough tennis courts in the city and this group will fight against expanding Mitchell Library. The city spends almost all of the available tax moneys in North Palo Alto as most are from there (council members) and their supporters are active lobbying for improvements. Like the $10 to 15 million for the small park where the PA Clinic was located. Also the 5 million for the Railroad under pass to the new P A Clinic. Also the 10K$ for each home for fiber to the home.

Posted by Not North
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2006 at 2:45 pm

Richard G is so preoccupied with feeling deprived, he doesn't notice that the south part of town has a huge park, Mitchell Park, _plus_ a number of smaller parks. Still he begrudges the north getting Heritage Park.
Also he also doesn't seem to know that 4 of the 9 council people do not live in the north. Both Barton and Cordell live in the south.
Both Klein and Morton live in the middle of town, somewhere near California Avenue/Oregon.

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